Sunday 30 September 2007

Z is cuddled

We canoodled enjoyably for a couple of hours before getting up around nine o'clock. I was still in no hurry to start the day and ran a bath and lay back in it for a while. We have a six-foot bath, which is excellent if I want to lie down, but no good at all if I just want to relax without getting my hair wet, as I have to stretch out my toes to keep from slipping under the water and it isn't as relaxing as I'd like it to be.

Lying there reminded me of when I was a child, and I would lie full length in the bath, with just my face out of the water and my body gently floating. I think I must have been propped on my elbows. It was very restful.

We had a service at a neighbouring church, to celebrate the ordination of one of its parishioners yesterday. In a benefice of six churches, we now have a rector, a retired clergyman and four OLMs (Ordained Local Ministers), as well as several Lay Readers or trainees and another trainee OLM. Someone mentioned gently at the churchwardens' meeting last night that, splendid as it is to have so many able and dedicated people to preside at services, we're a bit low on helpers to do the actual boring spadework, like cleaning churches, being treasurers and suchlike.

It was a delightful service, with a big congregation. Reg is very popular. I felt a little croaky - I have a cold - and became tired, so I did everyone a favour by not joining in the hymns. I reflected, seeing the rapt faces of some people during the last hymn, that maybe the mark of being 'born again' is actually seeing the point of 'Shine Jesus Shine. I don't get it at all, merely finding it tedious to play, but those who do absolutely love it and unselfconsciously put their faces up and hold their arms out. Afterwards, there was a lunch at the village school. I left quite early, warning a friend that I might not get to the piano recital that afternoon.

I didn't. I slept instead. I lay on the sofa and zonked for an hour and a half and then still lay stupefied for half an hour. When I opened my eyes, Tilly was sitting on a chair where she could see my face. It isn't a chair she normally sits on. I made space and she jumped on the sofa and wriggled up towards me for a cuddle.

I wrote up all the shop takings for the week, with the till totals. This was doing fine until Friday, when evidently someone (I'm pretty sure it wasn't me) had made a fairly substantial error and not noted it. One of the Saturday girls had done a similar thing too. She had called me over at one point, saying that the till was playing up - I put it right that time, but it must have happened again. It's easy to do - usually, one keys in the figure and forgets to enter it, presses the next figure, enters that, and it looks like a bigger figure. Let's say 89p, then £1.25 - it would show up as £891.25. What is supposed to happen is that one prints out the receipt, puts it in the till and does the transaction again, then Al corrects it at the end of the day.

Next week, I must catch up on things because I'm off on holiday on Friday. This will include I, Like the View's meme, which is half-written, and a couple of other posts I seem to have said I'll write. I'm in London on Wednesday, visiting the Mansion House and the Goldsmiths' Fair.

I'm pondering again whether to resign (or rather, not ask to be reappointed) as a school governor next summer. I'm presently vice-chairman and, as we're expecting an Ofsted inspection, the Head would like me to carry on. I'm also Special Educational Needs governor. I do a fair bit for that, but I am uncomfortably aware that I've been coasting for a couple of years. I think it's time to go, but it's quite hard to let go. 18 years at one school and 8 at another (with overlap, that totals 20 years) is a lot to relinquish. I've promised to write to the chairman, and tell her what I'm thinking and why.

I'm going to bed to wake my husband again.

But before I do, a wave to Mike, who has written a comment for every post this month. He needs no introduction from me, as he is so well know already but, although I already knew he was interesting, likeable and very readable, I now also know that he is quite the most charming bloke I have ever met. Not that I've actually met him, but whatever. Thanks, Mike, and congratulations on your endurance.

Saturday 29 September 2007

Pugsley's Birthday!!(!)

I finished my week's stint in the shop today. I found it quite tiring, and it was hard to get going this morning. It wasn't helped by my wakefulness at 4 am, wondering if it had been wise not to order peaches and nectarines - they are past their best and losing a juicy texture, although they taste good, and I had decided the leftover trays from yesterday were enough. I was happy about it at midnight when I went to bed, so why did it dwell on my mind when it was too late to do anything about it?

Anyway, I got up and did whatever you do at 4.45 when you can't sleep. I can't remember. I do remember picking spinach at 7.30.

Today is Pugsley's first birthday. They arrived home just before 5 (pm) and Al wondered if he should come and help me pack up. His father, rightly, said no. He's on holiday until tomorrow night when he phones in his orders.

When Squiffany was one, we bought her a train set. For Pugsley, we bought ... wait for it ... a train set. Unimaginative? Us? I Think Not. It is the same sort, so they can build a big track or each build their own. Our own children waited until they were a little older and then received 50s clockwork trains.

When I was a child, I'd have loved to have received boys' toys. I didn't like dolls and things and mostly read, played board games and did jigsaws. I did a lot outdoors too, in case you are dismissing me as a complete dull thing, just so long as it wasn't labelled Sport. I'm afraid that team games and other hearty things were seen, by the lofty and appallingly arrogant Z, as things done by unappealingly hearty people who sucked up to Games mistresses. Anyway, I never had a train set, so I had to rectify matters with my own daughter. I didn't encourage any Sindy or Barbie nonsense either, although proper dolls would have been permitted if El had shown any interest.

Anyway, I still maintain that boys' toys are more fun than girls' toys.

Friday 28 September 2007

Our house

It's been altered a lot over the centuries. We're not sure of its original use, although we know it was affiliated to the church. When the Sage's parents bought it in 1928, it was divided into three farmworkers cottages and two of them were still occupied. Alternative accommodation was found - but even a few years ago, people told us that they had been born at our house. Ten or twelve children in a family was not unusual.

Pa and Ma, once the house was empty, altered it considerably to turn it into one house. They moved the front door and porch, although it was rebuilt with the same materials only a few feet along. They tried to use the inglenook fireplace in the drawing room, but found that drawing was one thing that did not happen unless all windows and doors were open, so filled it in to make a smaller brick fireplace. They put in suspended wooden floors and (which I regret) they did away with most of the cupboard staircases and sacrificed a room to make a hall and 'proper' wooden staircase. Pa carved the banisters himself, and I do approve of them. Ma said that they tried to keep all 8 staircases, but it was just too draughty. Now there are three original ones, the one Pa built and the one we put up to the attic in the extension.

They also put up a fair lot of studwork, to Tudorise it even more. Not in every room: the dining room, one bedroom and one wall in the hall. The central beams are original though. The one in the drawing room is cracked (the master bedroom is above, but it happened before we moved in, okay?). There was an old iron bar to strengthen it, but we used an RSJ to jack up the ceiling, then had holes drilled (if you haven't heard the sound of 400-year-old oak being drilled, you don't know the meaning of toothache) and iron bars bolted together. The ceiling is still only 2 metres high and I can touch it (I'm short) and the beam lower than that.

I love the plaster on the walls. It's old and uneven, and the walls themselves go all ways - the bathroom, particularly, which has a floor sloping one way and a ceiling sloping another. It's wallpapered, by me, and that's an interesting experience which requires some skill (yup) and ingenuity (phooey).

The doors were all made by Pa, out of floorboards and iron studs. They look good and old. You pull a rope to open on one side or lift a latch on the other. Occasionally, a rope breaks and you are stuck in the room. You can climb out of the window, so long as the outside door isn't locked. We bear the anxiety with amusement when it happens.

There is still an inglenook in the dining room, although the mantelpiece is not that old. The Sage make the shutters, which are closed in my photo put up a few days ago, but we have never got around to matching up the colour of the new oak with the old.

There is one upstairs door that we all have to bend double to go through. The wall is surprisingly thick, and it's awfully easy to straighten up too soon and give oneself a migraine-inducing clonk. The only quicker way is sunlight dancing on waves.

Before we moved here, we did some renovations and received permission (it's a listed building) to enlarge a couple of windows - the then window frames dated from the 30s and were not nice. We took out one hazel pole that was part of the original construction and our bro'-in-law carved a walking-stick from it.

Thursday 27 September 2007

Music has charms

It's been a day when I've hurried from one thing to another, and I didn't stop working until 10.30 pm, having started at 8 am. I say stop, not finish, and I'm very grateful to the Sage for saying that I've got all weekend to type out a big valuation. It's mostly an update, but unfortunately when I transferred stuff from my old computer to this one, several years ago, some of it got corrupted or some nonsense like that (corrupted? what are they saying I made it do? Watch me in the shower? Look at pictures of naked men? Smoke small cheroots while drinking several tumblers of single malt? Pshaw.) This isn't too awful when it's only three pages to retype, but in a few weeks I've got a massive one to do, and that will have full descriptions of several hundreds of items, including where and when bought and listing damage. And the Sage appears to have promised to keep the cost to a minimum, so it's a good job I'll work for free (I am incapable of working for less than I'm worth, which is an absurdly vast sum, so I don't normally charge anything at all, which makes me bloody popular, I can tell you).

Anyway, music was required. I'm spending the week discreetly turning down the radio in the shop whenever Eileen's back is turned, and she quietly turns it back up at every opportunity. I find it hard to tune music out, so really nasty stuff hurts and even the innocuous stuff grates badly after a while, and Radio Broadland seems to go from one to the other with irritating regularity. I am mercifully alone in the afternoons and I take in my own music then, because Al has conditioned customers not to expect silence,

First, I needed soothing and Hoagy Carmichael did it nicely. I've adored him since the first time, decades ago, I saw To Have and Have Not. Bogie falling for Bacall, she having to hold her head on one side to stop from shaking and Hoagy singing about opium addiction. Don't bother with the book, by the way. Bleak.

Now, I am listening to Okkervil River. They are so damn good.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Little town, kind people

I was talking to Penny this morning. Until three weeks ago she worked at one of the nicest shops in the town. If you needed a present or some ornament for yourself or your home, that's where you looked first. It had been run for more than twenty years by Tony, with initial input from his brother. Last summer, Tony and his wife Mary were involved in a road accident with a Ministry of Defence vehicle, and Tony did not survive.

Mary decided to sell the business, and the new people took over about a month ago. It so happened that the Sage was their first customer, buying wedding anniversary cards for our children.

Penny always used to call into Al's shop early, on her way into work, so I'd missed seeing her since her retirement, but she came in today. She says she's finding it hard to adjust, but her house is very clean... And she still can't bear to go into the shop, although she wishes the new owners well.

She had heard, however, about the warm welcome they have received. Steve, at the restaurant next door, went in the first lunchtime bearing welcoming glasses of wine. People have called with cards and messages of goodwill. They were deeply touched. The town they used to live in, only a few miles away, isn't like Yagnub*.

Penny was not at all surprised. In the week of the anniversary of Tony's death, many people took the trouble to call in, just to say that they remembered, and were thinking of him.

No, I wasn't one of them. I'm not that thoughtful, and I'm from a larger town. It wouldn't come naturally.

I have been in to welcome the new owners though. It was my friend Lynn's birthday this week and I bought a wooden pestle and mortar from Bali and a carved wooden horse from the Philippines for her - both of which I rather wanted to keep...

*As always, credit Badgerdaddy with the reversing of the name

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Kinda Dorky? What?

Following on from the test of a few days back, here's an extended one, via MaryP says I'm a Kinda Dorky History / Lit Geek.  What are you?  Click here!

On being indispensable

I'm thinking back a few years...

I was vice-chairman of governors at the village school, and there were a few problems. In the January, the headteacher went on leave and a temporary replacement was appointed. At Easter, the head resigned and an acting head took over. I can't say more, except to make it clear that there is no blot on the record of the head, because I signed a confidentiality document and, effectively, accepted responsibility on behalf of the governors.

At this time, my mother was very unwell and very unhappy, and I was bearing the burden of that, which meant my family were too. And then, in early June, the chairman of governors died suddenly.

He was not only chairman of governors but chairman of the village hall committee, lay vice-chairman of the parish church committee, treasurer of same, and held a couple of other posts too (including another chairmanship). Apart from our shock at losing a dear friend, we were all up shit creek, as most of the village organisations were left without a chairman - and he was a damn good one. The only thing I can say is that he had been very efficient, so all the paperwork was up to date. And, as far as the school was concerned, I'd had as much (in some ways more) involvement as he.

At the time, and partly because of the difficulties, we were a little short of governors and most of them were quite new. It was essential for me to take over as chairman. I haven't mentioned that, in addition, we were expecting an OFSTED inspection at any time and we didn't have time for anyone who couldn't, as they say, hit the ground running.

In the autumn, some changes were made which I pushed forward against some opposition (fuck me, that was traumatic), my mother was diagnosed with cancer [at last (for she'd had it for some time but tests had not found anything)], Ro went to university, Al took over the shop at a moment's notice (I may have told this tale, does anyone remember?) and my daughter changed jobs and (no connection) met The Man.

By the end of that school year we'd had a good OFSTED report, the new Head was doing fine, the school roll was rising remarkably, my mother had died (in March) and I had done my job well. I worked hard the next year too. The year after, I set myself the task of bowing out. I had learned from Stuart's death and, useful though I'd been, I didn't matter. The position I held did, but its responsibilities should be shared as much as possible. I found someone ideal - indeed, better than I - to be the next chairman, stayed one more year and then resigned, knowing I'd not be missed.

It's natural to want to be missed. Most of us would secretly love to be remembered by more than their nearest loved ones. But, having considered dispassionately whether that is just vanity or whether it would be for my fine achievements or qualities, I have had to admit that vanity ruled.

For a while too, I did too much, at a time when I was... oh blimey, probably halfway out of it most of the time. I don't know how I came over, but I know people were quite anxious about me. I was all right really, but I was a bit intense.

Anyway, my point is, I learned that it's best to spread the load, for the sake of other people as well as yourself.

Monday 24 September 2007

A one-bathroom family

The house we live in is Tudor, basically, although it's been altered a lot over the years, not least by my in-laws after they bought it in 1928, the year after they were married. It is timber-framed and, we're told, originally displayed its half-timbered exterior before being brick-faced a couple of hundred years ago. There is also some Tudor brickwork and chimneys, and here is a very unseasonal photo (which I originally posted nearly a year and a half ago, so if you saw it then, gosh, haven't we been friends for a long time?)

You will see, on the left of the picture, some new brickwork - they haven't really weathered as much as we hoped although they are hand-made and will, I expect, blend in better in a few more decades. We built this extension because we were told by an expert in this sort of dwelling that the chimneys would never have been built at the end of the house and that there must have been a wing of it pulled down at some time, perhaps when the brick facing was done. This explained why the dining room was always slightly damp.

To create an extra bedroom, the Sage's parents had divided a large bedroom into two plus a passageway and we decided to remove the partitions. It meant we'd only have four bedrooms instead of five, but it's a lovely room and it was spoiled by being split up. Al agreed that he would sleep on his brother's bedroom floor when we had guests. When we built the new part, we offered El the new bedroom. It would be reached through her old one, because the back stairs led into that, and then through Al's room. It would be a big room, about 18 foot by 20 foot, plus built-in cupboards, so we suggested dividing it into a bedroom, a bathroom and a studio - at the time they both did stained glass work, Al was good at carpentry and El at art. And El would have her own ensuite bathroom.

Once the room was built, El came to us. "Why do I have to have a bathroom?" she asked. We said we thought she would like it. She pointed out what a beautiful room it was, and wasn't it a shame to break it up? It was, and it was, and as long as she was happy to share the bathroom (because we didn't want to lose a fifth bedroom before we had had a chance to use it) then that was fine with us.

Now that is Ro's bedroom as El has long since left home. We have to have pretty easy-going overnight guests, as he has to go through the spare bedroom to get to bed.

It's a funny thing though. The Sage and I leave the bathroom door open when one of us is in the bath, but our children don't. And we always have our bedroom door open, but when they stay, they shut theirs. I have no idea if there is any significance at all in this.

Sunday 23 September 2007

Z has nothing to say, which does not stop me saying it

I started to write, completely lost the thread and deleted it. However, I've got to post something now. Otherwise, my half-written and barely half-witted words will appear on RSS feeds and you will think I'm a fool.

I probably will regale you all week with funny stories about vegetables. I apologise.

Our lovely friend Daphne has been staying for the weekend. The only problem about having friends to stay is that you spend so many hours talking that you go to bed very late. And you politely let her use the bathroom first (there is a shower in the bedroom, but a shower is so stimulating that I'd be awake all night) so go to bed even later.

I chose Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother on the strength of the line at the top of the page opened at random 'He'd tried celibacy. The only problem was the lack of sex.' I'm easily amused, admittedly, and it's not a new joke, but still worth hearing again. I enjoyed the book and it lasted me most of the journey down to Gloucestershire on Thursday. I passed it on to a friend for her to read on the way back, and started on a biography of Mark Twain. I haven't finished that yet though.

Did I ever tell you that, as a child, I used to have a dog called Huckleberry? He was lovely. My next dog (if it arrives with me unnamed) will be called Huckleberry.

Right. I think the bathroom is free. It's Monday morning. I know the time on the post says Sunday night, but that's because I can't be bothered to change it.

Saturday 22 September 2007

Harvest Festival

Al and his family have gone on holiday, leaving me to run the shop. This is a heady responsibility and I am tremendously excited. I finished in something of a rush today, as I was playing the organ at a neighbouring church at 6 o'clock and usually we don't start to pack up until 5.30. I started, instead, at 4.55 and still didn't leave until nearly 20 to 6.

The organ playing went well enough, although it would have been easier if I had been able to see the music. The church is in the middle of a field and has no electricity. There is a gas lamp by the organ, but it doesn't cast all that much light. Still, I didn't mind, all part of the experience. It wasn't, of course, dark at six, but I played again at 7.45.

Yesterday, I went to put stuff in my village church for Harvest Festival tomorrow. I'd had an email to say that four people had done most of the decorations (including the windowsill I said I'd do...), and it just needed my baskets of fruit and veg. I was somewhat horrified when I saw the 'decorations' On three windowsills, they had covered an array of different size boxes with gaudily shiny gold material, arranging the odd cabbage and cucumber on each surface, where you can hardly see them because the gold cloth reflects the light so much. Except for one windowsill, which is advertising Fairtrade produce. The fourth windowsill had a few flowers stuck in oasis with a line of tomatoes and apples in front, which would have been quite sweet if done by children. There were also a few vases filled with random bunches of flowers. I've a feeling someone thought it was artistic. I know there are some who do not approve entirely of my fruit and veg, as they think it would be more useful to bring tins and packets (the stuff is distributed to pensioners in the village by the village schoolchildren). I don't object to the tins, although I do hope that when I'm old I will still choose to eat vegetables rather than open a can, but they really don't add beauty to the display. And a jar of coffee or a tin of baked beans has little to do with the English harvest.

If anyone ever says again to me that tins are useful because they can be given to the poor or old, I might be tempted to quote the Bible. When Jesus was having his feet anointed with oil and Judas said sniffily that the oil was valuable and could have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus put him in his place.

Al gives the produce (he says it's his insurance that ensures he never has to set foot in church), which fills six big open baskets and I give the flowers. I did two arrangements with big dahlias. Artistic, no. Celebratory, hell yes.

Z arrived home and drank a single glass of wine

When the tyre was mended, I trotted back to tell people they could come and board the coach when they were ready. Some were relaxing in armchairs and quite reluctant to move at all.

Andrew was chatting to several of our party and telling some rather good jokes. His comic timing is splendid. While we were waiting for the last few arrivals, he said again that it had really helped him, that I had been calm and reassuring all the time. "It's not what goes wrong that matters, you couldn't help that," I said. "It's what you do to put it right, and you reacted in the best way possible. And what I find in these situations is how helpful people are. You don't know how kind someone is until you need their help."

He agreed with that. He had been struck by the garage mechanic immediately leaving his job and coming to help. "The thing is," I added, " Things may go awry, but they never go as wrong as your imagination thinks they can. There's no point in looking ahead to the worst-case scenario, because it won't happen. I'm very, very old and I've learned never to get upset about something I can't help, as things always work out."

"But you're not very, very old!" he exclaimed. "Old" he added, "But not very very old."

There was an intake of breath from the few people nearby. But Andrew had my measure. I was already laughing.

I have no idea how people know within a short time of meeting me that they can rib me something shocking, but they always do and I am teased by everyone. It makes me fall about, I love a joke at my own expense.

We stopped at the same motorway services on the road home and Andrew, who had developed a gung-ho attitude to life in the last few hours, parked in the same place as last time. We piled in and Pam asked, hopefully, if alcohol was sold anywhere on the premises. We all looked disappointed when were told the whole place was dry. So we ordered great plates of fish and chips instead.

The drive home was uneventful. Andrew, relaxed by now, chatted to me quite a lot of the way. He'd come into coach driving by chance, as he was an engineer with a good job and just fancied an extra challenge, so went for a HGV licence and then a coach-driver's one. The coach company is based in the village where he lives and he started by helping them out as a relief driver. Now, he's self-employed and does what he chooses - which is mostly to work very hard. But he doesn't mind it, he explained, as he is under no obligation. He can always say no, though he usually doesn't. He also drives a sugar beet lorry at harvest time, looks after his and his parents' 2-acre garden and enjoys life. It didn't sound as if there was room for a girl- or (perhaps) boyfriend in his life and he obviously genuinely enjoys the company of his parents - which was why he got on well with me, perhaps, I am very motherly.

We actually arrived back in Norwich at the time we had originally expected. I was home by 9.45 and the Sage greeted me at the door with a glass of wine.

I,LTV asked why we'd gone to H1ghgr0ve. Simply, a couple of people on the committee had been and recommended it. We applied in March 05 and at the time were told that it might be up to four years before we were offered a place. However, since there is such demand, Prince Charles decided to up the number of parties and they are booked in at 20-minute intervals all day, every week day, April to September. He makes no charge, the guides and shop assistants are volunteers and any donations and all profits on shop sales go to his charitable trust.

And the part of H1ghgr0ve that made me warm to him most? It was the front entrance. It's a lovely, though unpretentious house and not in any way a stately home. There are plants growing up the house and they are left to roam as they will, though trimmed away from the windows. There is a five-barred gate opposite, which leads to fields and a view of the church spire of Tetbury. Outside the front door is a gravel drive with an oval piece of grass to drive around. In the centre is a huge and beautiful pot planted with flowers, but the grass has uneven edges and creeps into the gravel. It is so small and unfussy an entrance (though the front door is huge and tall) as to be almost disconcerting before it makes you smile.

Friday 21 September 2007

The garden and the bolt-hole

H1ghgr0ve is a lovely place, tranquil and friendly, with 16 acres of meandering garden, as well as its accompanying farm, set out in various styles, most of them informal and based on greenery rather than flowers. I suspect that it's best seen earlier in the year, when bulbs or wild flowers or tree blossom are out, but I loved it now too. The policy is to leave as much as possible, so there is ivy on the trees, some visible (small) weeds and heaps of mole-hills on the wild-flower meadow. Around the house there are several small gardens, more laid-out and themed - one is a cottage garden, one has a black and white (more like blues and purples, white and green) theme and another, the most stylised, has a Persian carpet inspiration to its layout. There is also a substantial kitchen garden, although I noticed that the runner and french beans have not been picked recently.

We were taken round in two groups. Mine was led by a very attractive and slender woman called Michele. Her skirt was tight and flared and reminded me of an Edwardian riding skirt.

What I'd liked about our greeting was its friendly informality. I had expected to go through a security check of some sort but, apart from the photo ID check at the gate, we were treated as guests. At the end of the tour, which took rather more than an hour and a half, we were given tea and some divine biscuits (not the usual Duchy ones, but some only available at H1ghgr0ve) and then the shop was mentioned in a generously 'you might like to' sort of way. Sorry to be so uncritical, but I even liked the shop.

I was in the second group and Andrew our driver, who had stayed with the coach (it would have been really nice if he could have joined us, which is my only criticism), was already having tea with the first lot. He came over when he saw me and said he'd better go back to the coach. "Actually," he said, "I'm waiting for ATS to come. We've got a puncture."

If you remember, he had started the day by finding the car he'd expected to use had vanished and had, for a while, believed it was stolen. Then we'd had the breakdown at the motorway service area, when the coach battery had suddenly failed. Now there was a socking great bolt in a rear offside tyre. It could so have not been his day, if he hadn't met us, for we were lovely to him. Indeed, I went so far as to put a consoling hand on his shoulder.

I left him to it for twenty minutes or so while I pottered round the shop and bought things - I felt he would be happier if not fussed. The whole thing only delayed us by a short while. It was lucky that he had taken a stroll around the car part and noticed a hissing sound...

We were so lucky. I told him that, whilst I'd obviously jinxed this trip (he said that he had only had two coach problems in ten years, and now there were two in a day), I was a useful person to have around, as I am unnaturally lucky. It's not that things don't go wrong around me, but they always end well.

Which is obviously a note to finish on, so I'll spin this out for one more day.

Thursday 20 September 2007

Z is Sparky, but the Battery is Flat

I didn't really sleep - a doze for a few minutes at a time and I was up before the 5 o'clock alarm and in Norwich before 6. Everyone arrived by 6.15 and we were ready to leave early.

The first hitch came when the driver had a call from the second driver, to say that the car had vanished from the depot and he couldn't go to meet us en route. There are strict limits on the total length of time a coach driver can go without a break, and overall in a day and a week, and this was to stay within the rules. At first, they assumed that the car had been stolen, but after a while they realised that someone else was due to use it later, so it was quite likely he'd picked it up already, not knowing it was wanted.

So we went and picked up Driver 2 from the depot.

He was a young man called Andrew. I say young - I don't know how old he is. He seems youthful and has an unlined face. He is very slender. However, his hair is already noticeably greying. Mid-thirties at least, I suppose. He was very pleasant and we chatted, on and off. A couple of hours later, we stopped for a break and agreed to return in 45 minutes. I offered to stay on the coach so that he could leave without locking it.

It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to have H1ghgr0ve's phone number, just in case, so I rang the person who had it. Such foresight is rare in one so scatty. Andrew and I worked out the timing and reckoned on having at least 15 minutes to spare, which was good. Then he tried to start the engine and he went white. The battery was dead. Not a spark. He looked completely shocked.

You know, sometimes it's only when things go wrong that you find out how helpful people are. He rang his boss, who was able to tell him that there was a suitable garage at the service station. He ran, literally, to it. Afterwards, he said that he burst into the office, apologised for being out of breath and had to stand and pant until he could speak. "We've got the batteries in stock, we'll fit them right away." A mechanic was taken off another job and they fetched the two huge batteries, carried them to the coach and, less than half an hour later than we planned, we were on our way.

I spoke soothingly to our members and was cheerfully reassuring to Andrew, who was grateful. One member had been flapping a bit, but I told her it would be fine. This is my role in a crisis, telling everyone it will be fine. Because, usually, it is and panicking is no help. I rang, explained to the answerphone, and later got a cheerful phone call back saying there would be no problem. In fact, we were less than five minutes late. We all had our passports checked by the friendly policeman and then got out of the coach into an anti-Foot and Mouth foot-dip.

Emily, who greeted us, got my name a bit wrong. My friend Nick has now christened me Sparky. I'm not sure if this is better or worse than Boss, his previous name for me.

I'll tell you the rest tomorrow, but now I'm going to bed.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Z is going to bed. At least some of the time, Z will sleep.

Ro and I were listening to Front Row on the radio this evening - amongst other things being talked about was Tracey Emin's artwork, ' My Bed'.

The presenter (ooh, I am bad with names) was talking to Germaine Greer. He said that the artefacts scattered around the bed referred to all the main connections with a bed: sex death pregnancy and childbirth. Ro and I looked at each other. "What?" said Ro. "Isn't sleep in there somewhere?" We decided he was being just a little pretentious.

Has anyone seen quinces for sale yet this autumn? Al has been offered some, and he can't remember what he sold them for last year. He can't get them from the wholesaler so relies on locals to bring them from their gardens. He probably, he said, sold them for £1, but whether that was for 1 lb (one pound weight) or 1 kilogram, he isn't sure. He wants to know whether to offer 27p per lb for them or 60p. Or, indeed, something in between.

I'm off on my visit to H1ghgr0ve tomorrow. I am going to leave the house rather before 5.30 am. I have to unlock the gate to the carpark and some people will arrive absurdly early. Others will get there at the last minute. I am going to bed now.

Lightly nerdy.

About what I'd have thought. I think the Mac and Safari gave me a nedge.

I am nerdier than 46% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Z milks applause

I am bemused that I wrote a post, however short, about what potboiling television I watched last night. I am so sorry.

Back to Norwich yet again - and blimey, twice more to come this week - to a lecture on Francis I of France. Very interesting. I trotted awkwardly on stage to introduce the speaker. I bobbed, waving, saying "Look at me, look at me. Like me! I'll grin and talk and waffle and be funny and loveable until you think I'm wonderful." That is, I might as well have done. I won't stop until they smile, at any rate.

I'd been a bit alarmed. Someone had asked what time we were leaving on Thursday. "6.30 - please arrive by 6.15," I said. "Oh," she answered, "because I thought it was 6 o'clock but someone told me it was 7." I reminded her to bring her passport or driving licence. "Oh, do we need that?" she asked. Then she mused that it was a long day, so if she didn't feel like coming, could I find someone to fill her place? "No, I sent in the names a fortnight ago for the police check." She decided to come. Someone else was anxious, because she had been told she couldn't take a handbag. Of course you can take a bloody handbag! It's a camera you can't take, or a phone. I had, of course, written to everyone as well as sending them a copy of the Highgrove guidance notes, so there is no reason they should not know.

This is my excuse for rabbiting on at some length about the whole thing. Get 'em to laugh at me and they might actually listen. I said, truthfully (for Z may exaggerate but she only lies when she wants to), that I put my passport in my bag yesterday, in case I didn't think of it again.

Afterwards, I went up the hill to Jarrolds and bought a new diary. I know one is always given various diaries, but if it's not a layout I like, it annoys me all year. I started to fill it in while I waited for lunch and am a little cast down by how many dull things there are to write in already. I must plan some frivolity.

Z is still a Child of the Sixties

I babysat last night. Slightly disappointingly, both children were being put to bed (Al's job) and were asleep within moments of their parents leaving the house, so I didn't have a chance to play with Squiffany.

I watched television most of the evening. I hardly ever do that. Though I fell asleep part-way through Nigella. I hardly ever fall asleep in the evening either, whether I watch television or not, which leads me to suspect that her new series is not a patch on any previous one.

But before that, I'd watched Mastermind. And one of the subjects was Round the Horne. I chortled helplessly just at the questions. It took me right back to Sunday mornings when I was a lass when we listened to it. Mind you, if my mother had heard of Polari or understood any of it, it would have been banned from the house. Listening again, years later, it was considerable ruder than any of us had realised.

Monday 17 September 2007

Mairzy doats and dozy doats...

...and hafftun cowzy divy. Bart Simpson is the boldest cow and she waylays the barrow to check what's edible on it before it goes to the bonfire. I've mostly been cutting out brambles and dead trees today. They are so dead that they fall down quite nicely if you push them.

But first, I went to the dentist. That hurt. Not the dentist himself, but his bill. He looked carefully for several minutes, assured me that my gums and tongue and suchlike look in good order (I'm glad to hear this, because both the people I have known with mouth or jaw cancer had it originally spotted on routine dental check-ups) and decided to give me a quick clean and polish. The extra five minutes this took presumably justified the £45 bill.

Tonight, babysitting. Dilly and Al are going to the beekeepers meeting. A couple of weeks ago, a customer was stung by a wasp in the shop. She (Val from the pet shop, Badge) was unperturbed, but later her finger swelled up and the next day she collapsed. Steroids put her right, but she'll have to be careful in future.

I'm a little anxious. Several weeks ago, I was asked if I'd play a few Harvest hymns for a nearby village's Harvest Supper, which is in their village church. I gained the impression that it would be a bit of rousing singing before the meal. Yesterday, I had a phone call from a chap who wants to agree with me what's happening and he's cheerily talking about 40 minutes or so after the meal. What? I'm not doing any sort of recital here. I haven't time to practise and I haven't the suitable repertoire. A dashing voluntary or some quiet funeral stuff is what I do, when it isn't hymns. I haven't played the piano for ages as mine's still off for repair. He's coming round in half an hour to talk about it, and I'll have to make it quite clear that I can lead singing or accompany a soloist, but I'm not the main event, in any sense.

Sunday 16 September 2007

Z listens to a friend

The organ-ising could have gone better. Unfortunately, I played the tune from a different book than the one used for the words, as I preferred the arrangement, and I realised after I'd started that I'd forgotten to check the number of verses. I hoped it would be the same as in the book I was using. It wasn't. There was an extra verse and the congregation carried on singing. I caught up in the second line. It gave people a golden opportunity to be kind, and for me to be humble.


The next hymn tune was Hyfrydol (sung to Alleluia, sing to Jesus and I will sing the wondrous story amongst, possibly, other hymns) which I like very much. I learned it properly, a long time ago, as it is quite tricky in bits (I am quite lazy and often pretty well sight-read) and so let my fingers twinkly exuberantly over the keys, to the extent that the congregation lagged behind to begin with and had to buck their ideas up and sing faster. Hah!

Later, a friend told me that he had been helping, in a professional and advisory capacity, a woman who had got her life into something of a mess. In the course of conversation, she discovered that, when wearing his other hat, he's a self-employed carpenter and she said that she has some work needing to be done at her house and asked if he'd be able to do it. He said that he's in a quandary. He would like to help her, and he could do with the work. However, he knows that she is quite needy and vulnerable and has an instinct that he might find himself in an awkward situation if he were to visit her at home. He knows that she is grateful to him for his help and that they like each other. She's also, he said gloomily, a very attractive woman. He knows (for he's a realist) that, for someone who has been treated quite badly by men in the past, to be talked to as a person rather than a sex object and to be helped without an expectation of 'reward' (other than payment of a fair bill), might be quite a heady experience and he doesn't want to risk engaging her emotions.

I'll make it clear that I know him and his wife well and they are very close. I do not think for a minute that he'd lead this woman on. I am taking his word for it, that there isn't a problem but there might be.

Whether he does the work or not, I'm sure he will keep her at arm's length, because he is aware of the situation. But I do know how naively one can get into an awkward spot. And I wonder if one is culpable if, just because of being friendly, ones actions are misinterpreted?

I had an awkward situation of my own about a year ago, which still rankles a bit. It was all dealt with amicably at the time, but this reminded me that I still feel a bit peculiar about it.

Saturday 15 September 2007

Z is useful and cheap

Spurred on by Mike and K's noble example, I trotted out to prune the wisteria. The Sage came and watched me. "Hm, I think I need the pair of steps" I decided. The splendid fellow went and fetched them for me and put them up. "You won't go up on the top step?" he asked. I assured him I was not planning a plummet any time soon. Reassured, he went off to do *whatever errands that take him out of the house for several hours a day*. I reflected that some blokes hold the ladder. Or ascend it.

It's all right. I didn't plummet and I used the secateurs and pruning saw to good effect. If we ever used the front door, we could do so without being forced off the path into the lavender.

I didn't, of course, clear anything up. That's not my job.

By the way, I've been meaning to ask you - does anyone have an opinion whether or not it's worth keeping capsicum (in this case, chilli) plants alive during the winter, rather than growing them from seed every spring? I could keep them in the porch, which is frost-free, but that's the best I'd do. No heat. Apart from the jalapenos, which have lost a lot of their leaves, they are all still really healthy and covered with flowers, as well as having given loads of chillies but usually I just let them go as the weather gets colder.

I completely forgot about dinner and had to rootle in the larder and the vegetable garden. Butternut squash risotto and sautéed swiss chard was the result. I didn't use the chard leaves, which will be cooked as spinach tomorrow. Ro came and grated the squash for me, which gave us a chance to chat - we're all a taciturn lot who are quite comfortable being quiet most of the time.

He had been out to the pub last night with old school friends, for the first time for a while and, as I know quite a lot of them, he filled me in on their current doings. It's a bit startling, to hear that one was (until a week ago, whoops) contemplating marriage and another buying a house. Another has finished his stint in the RAF, and he's only 23. Ro approves of the smoke free pubs. And he said, with some satisfaction, that he hadn't had a drink all evening - no alcohol, that is. Although, as he said, there is only so much lemonade you can drink. He does drink, but he hates being pushed to keep up and have a pint bought with every round. Easier to say no at the start. I know what he means, which is why I usually drink halves in pubs. My popularity depends, in part, on my reputation as a cheap date.

Z was planning to do something else this morning.

I woke early, remembered it was Saturday and stayed in bed reading for some time. It was half past eight by the time I ambled into the study to check emails ... oh, okay, I admit it, to see if there were any comments here, for who would have emailed in the last eight hours?

Margaret had. There was a slightly startled message to say that we had been offered more places on the Highgrove* visit and what did I think?

I wrote about this some weeks ago, and was thoroughly reprimanded by Dave. We were only offered 25 places and there were over 40 applicants: I said that we were having a draw to see who would get a place and he pointed out that I was cheating by putting myself at the top of the list. I had to agree.

We also had to send in names and addresses a fortnight in advance, to make sure we don't belong to terrorist organisations or have been caught buying weedkiller or eating non-organically-fed chicken. The visit will be next Thursday, so evidently they are prepared to waive that rule and do the checks in a couple of days.

I rang Margaret and we decided to go ahead. There are only 8 spare seats on the coach and, because of cancellations, I have 10 people left on the waiting list, so there's a reasonable chance I can fill them. It wasn't the way I expected to spend Saturday morning, but there we go. I'll just stick in my contact lenses and get dialling.

*The Prince of Wales' house. He offers tours of the garden to respectable groups of nice people. Though a few slightly louche ones can get in, as long as they pass the police check.

Update - I was planning to do something else this bloody afternoon too. Other people, it appears, have a life at the weekend. They go out. They do not answer their phones. I have filled five places and sent off confirming letters (letters of confirmation, Dave, unlike you I am not qualified to administer sacraments), have left two answerphone messages and have one woman who doesn't use a messaging service to remember to ring this evening.

None of this actually took a vast amount of time, of course, but I've sort of been hanging around not doing much in the meantime. Except, I had a phone call from Al. His deliverer, who has a shop key had, unaccountably, left all his delivery on the pavement outside the shop. A 40 pound (weight) box of bananas was missing, and a sack of carrots of about the same weight. We are looking for a strong monkey riding a donkey.

Anyway, he had received more bananas from his other supplier and could manage for most of the day, but he wanted me to go into the Co-op and buy a few kilos of carrots. Fortunately, they were English and about the same price as he sells them for, so at least he won't lose anything - he certainly won't pay for the missing stuff. He's probably run out by now, but you can't not have a staple veg on a Saturday morning. It's the way to lose customers.

Friday 14 September 2007

Z drove to Norwich and met Dave!

I drove through Boringland. That is almost its name, and periodically the road sign is changed with spray paint to show its real nature - obviously, it's probably lovely to live in but it is frightfully tedious to drive through. Just past the first roundabout there were road works and traffic lights. I waited behind several cars until the lights turned green and we slowly moved. The car two ahead stopped and the young man waiting at the bus stop (oh yes, that's a good idea in the middle of single-lane traffic, no question of moving it for a week or two?) moved towards the beckoning finger. He took an envelope and put it dutifully into the pillar box. The car moved off. I laughed (out loud, yes indeed).

I had Errands to do in Bonds - or, as it's now called, John Lewis. As ever, the assistant was charming and carried my purchase to the till, although it was well within my capabilities. Having spent some time there already, I decided to repark, because I was likely to stay long enough into the time when the car parking charge went from 'ooh, how reasonable' to 'fuck me, how much?' by the time I left. I had to get into the car through the passenger door, as the Bonds multi-storey is incredibly badly designed and gives very little space between the Meccano-like metal structure to actually park the car. I can park well enough, but I do not always allow room for opening the door on my side, because that's the side I go by when I'm judging distance. As I slid into place, I got a dusty streak on my white top. I did indeed get out of the car and head towards the shop to buy a new one before I came to my senses and simply brushed it off. I might still have looked a little grubby. This is good for humility and I accepted the probability.

As I drove around the new car park, I received a text message from Dilly

'Hello, are you ok? are you there yet? bit worried about you...'

I returned a calming message.

'Take care and enjoy lunch x' she texted back.

Look, Dave's okay. He may come across as a miserable bugger, but he's much nicer than that. And he brought me jamjars. What a sweetie. He did all the talking, except when the waitress came mid-anecdote (mine) and I lost the thread and had to interject several other vaguely relevant stories until I remembered what the hell I'd been talking about. But after I'd told my story, I shut up and deboned my sardines. I started with aubergines and he had gravadlax, and then he had lamb. I finished with crème brûlée and he with raspberry (? I think?) pavlova.

Later, back in the car, I texted Dilly again.

'Safely alone again in my own car! x'

'Thanks for letting me know - hope all went well -sorry to be all protective - I know what weird people you can meet online! x'

'Indeed. Like husbands for instance' I replied.

'Exactly! x' she replied.

Which is not to scare Dave, but Dilly and Al did, indeed, meet online.

The Sage didn't fuss, of course. Sound, the Sage.

And I'm early, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVE!!(!)

Thursday 13 September 2007

Z quashes her tendency to be Raucous

The catalogue has gone to be printed and I've taken the photos for the website. I still have to go through them all before passing them on to Ro, and then there are hundreds of envelopes to fill, but it's looking good. There's no hurry as we don't want to post the catalogues until the end of the month.

I went out to dinner tonight. A group of us meet once a month - I'm the youngest by at least ten years, most of us have been friends for ages, although a few extra join the group every so often. Others leave, for one reason or another. The organiser of the happy occasions is a retired headmistress of a smart school for clever and awfully pukka girls in Surrey. Sand1 T0ksv1g is a former pupil of hers. M. will celebrate her 90th birthday in January, but has lost none of her powers. At present she is on holiday so a couple of us were entrusted with Jobs. Mine was accosting each lady and writing down her menu choices.

Apparently, M had some qualms about leaving us to ourselves. She hoped that we would amuse ourselves but that the laughter should not become raucous. She doesn't quite like raucous laughter at the dinner table. "I expect it was me, last month," I admitted. "I can become quite loud." "Ooh, so can I" chipped in Rita. "That's true", I said. "You have led me astray."

We were quite well behaved and no one danced on the table at all. But I did eat my whole plateful of chocolate cheesecake with praline ice-cream, as it was awfully good, and it was something of a mistake. Three hours later, I still feel very full.

Norwich again tomorrow. This is twice in one week, which is quite cosmopolitan and exciting for me.

Wednesday 12 September 2007

The Wailing Mall

I went over to Norwich this afternoon, to buy a new vacuum cleaner for the church. I'd decided, after talking to Jeni, the cleaner, to buy a Dyson and checked the website...then a few other websites. I plumped for John Lewis, which was far less expensive than buying it direct, but it wouldn't be delivered until next week so, having rung to be sure it was in stock, I went to fetch it. It was actually £20 cheaper in store than online.

The assistant, who looked like a very young version of Martin Freeman, carried it out to the car for me. Oh, the joys of middle age. Time was, I'd have been sent to the pick-up point and expected to carry it myself.

I had to get some keys cut so whizzed down the hill (Norwich is awfully hilly, for Norfolk) to the market stall. On the way, I was alarmed to hear a frightful noise. As I rounded the corner by Debenhams, my expectations were surpassed. Not only was a bloke playing 'Amazing Grace' on the bagpipes, he was in full kiltish fig. My teeth were hurting. I scuttled along on the other side of the road, and was nearly beset by a couple of chuggers. I avoided them adroitly, unlike one polite young man who was stopped and shown papers and a badge, and I saw him shaking his head ineffectually.

Having got the keys, I crossed the road to the stationers. The bagpipes still keened plaintively. I bought box files for the Sage and came out again, to blessed silence. I realised what had happened. Someone had given him money to pack up and play in the next street.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

Z is alone for the morning

The Sage is out, viewing an auction. The phone has been ringing all morning with people desperate to speak to him. No one wanted to speak to me.

"Is it too late to put a few pieces in the next sale?" enquired one caller. I said I wasn't sure and, indeed, it will depend on what they are - the Sage accepted a piece last night, but that one is a bit special and worth moving things around for.

I've just delivered Meals on Wheels. One old lady, well in her nineties, is losing her memory. She looked anxious when I went in and, as I always do, I cheerfully said I was from Meals on Wheels and had brought her lunch, before she had to ask me. "I get confused" she said sadly. I said, sympathetically, that when she doesn't go out, it's hard to remember what day it is and who is going to call. She was grateful that I took it seriously, maybe she's had people trying to jolly her along.

It's a sad stage to go through, that she knows there is something wrong but can't do anything about it. A year or two back, she showed me her diary. Her daughter, who visits daily, had written who would call, what should happen that day, the night she played whist, the day she had lunch at the pub, the evening she went to Bingo. Other evenings, she had written "You do not go out tonight." A few weeks ago, she showed me the diary again. "You do not go out in the evenings" was written. But she still has callers, the home help, the hairdresser and the chiropodist, and she still has her Thursday fish and chips at the pub. She is clean and tranquil and loved. But her mind is going and her body isn't. She has a lovely face and looks far younger than her age.

She put her hand on my arm gratefully, and asked if she should put the food on a plate. Then she hesitated. I dished up the food - a beef pie with cabbage, carrots, peas, mashed potato and gravy, followed by apple crumble and custard. The cafe does lovely food - the veg were not overcooked and I, who am fussy about quality, would have enjoyed eating it. There was a jug of orange squash ready on the table, covered by a plate and labelled, so I poured some in a glass, took the trayful to the living room and gave it to her. Before I went, I put my arms round her, hugged and kissed her, and she was happy and thanked me for my kindness.

But she is a sweet old lady and invites kindness. I hope, as her mind drifts away, she doesn't become more agitated. Her daughter loves her very much and looks after her well, but it must be a constant anxiety to her. But I'm sure she is glad to have her mother still.

Z's gavel and other images

Today, pictures. I haven't loaded them from the camera to the computer for a while, so some of them date from a couple of weeks ago.

The view from Snape Maltings concert hall. It's a lovely tranquil place.

We went to Southwold. From the beach just below Gun Hill, the pier was on the left and Sizewell nuclear power station can be seen down the coast.

Slightly chipped.

Our little girl.

My boy and his boy.

When I lived in Lowestoft, this was the view from the clifftop 100 yards from my house. The church is on the edge of the cliff, although in Victorian times it was half a mile inland. The erosion has stopped here but continues down the coast and up in Norfolk. The church used to be two semi-detached churches. It was bombed during the war and lost its internal fittings and thatched roof, but the structure was saved.

Chicks and their mother.

A keen little bantam laid an egg. The larger ones are smaller than hens' eggs, this one was tiny. When I cracked it, it was filled with albumen and had no yolk.

The Sage took a break from lotting the china.

The sunset across the field in front of the house.

Monday 10 September 2007

Time on my hands...

...whether or not it's on my side

As I am a conplete sucker for quizzes and it is my birthday (did I mention my birthday already?), I whiled away a few minutes with this one.

I came out as 'spontaneous', 'facts', 'hearts', 'introvert' and, overall, Peacemaker. Which is probably fair enough.

Sunday 9 September 2007

Z prepares for her Birthday!!(!)

A single day isn't enough for those in our family. Dilly, Phil and I had a joint jollity today, with a cheery salutation to Pugsley too, who will be 1 at the end of this month. We had cake, I had presents, and there was even Pass the Parcel, for we have regained childish ways in the past few years.

I was also childish enough to require a brief nap afterwards...

The past year has been excellent and I've been particularly happy. I've regained the confidence to make plans for the future which, 18 months ago, I didn't expect to want to do again. At that time I felt safer to live in the present and refused to look ahead and felt quite comfortable with that, but now I realise that it wasn't as healthy an attitude as I thought it was.

54 sounds quite old -I prefer the odd numbers. But I console myself that the older I become, the more my antique-loving husband appreciates me.

Saturday 8 September 2007

z sits in Judgment

This morning, I lost my car key. I parked the car, took some carrier bags to Al, who demands that his customers use their own bags or else recycle supermarket ones, went to the cashpoint and the butcher, then back to Al for some calabrese and, while I was about it, served a customer with a chilli pepper, two limes, a bunch of spring onions and a head of garlic, which cost £1.53 (this last to demonstrate that, while I may be scatty, I do have some sort of a memory). While I was doing this, I lost the key. I turned my bag out twice - Sarah and Amy were particularly bemused by the gavel - and retraced my footsteps. I am in despair.

I expect you think I am the sort of woman who has no idea where her spare key is, but I know what a fool I am and so make provision for it, and I was able to phone the Sage, direct him to the key and Dilly came in to deliver it.

I went to judge the Domestic classes at the next-door village Autumn Show. This was most enjoyable and allowed the bossy and decisive part of my nature full rein (I am, normally, sweet and biddable of course). Of course, one has to taste everything. The classes were Fruit Cake, Shortbread, Apple Pie, Bread Rolls, Canapés, Marmalade, Mint Sauce, Chutney, Pickles, Eggs (these, being au naturel, I did not taste, but I cracked one of each on to a plate to judge the quality), non-alcoholic Summer Drink and the gentleman's class, a Lemon Drizzle Cake. Men were not, of course, excluded from any of the other classes.

I ate a bit of everything. Including nine different chutneys. The standard was very high and it was hard to choose. Afterwards, I was given lunch. Of course I ate it - it was Denton, where the food is fantastic.

However good it all is, though, there is usually one outstanding item, which demands first place. It's the later places that are harder to evaluate. The chutneys were all so different and it was hard to judge one against another so I had to go through them all again. The best of all were a courgette chutney and a mango chutney with sultanas and almonds and I liked them both equally. I gave first prize to the courgette, as it used local ingredients, gave a splendid flavour to a not-very-flavourful base and helpfully used something that comes in a glut at this time of the year. The lemon cakes were gorgeous and the two best were outstanding. Far better than any cake I make. I did the drink last, by which time four people were standing watching me. One, who had been helping with the labels, stood back as her drink was among the entrants. I tried them all, twice (including the one I didn't much like, in case it was hers). Then I tried some of them again. I picked an elderflower cordial, a lemonade and an iced mint tea (this was actual tea flavoured with mint, not a herb tisane). I tasted them for a fourth time. Everyone was vastly impressed by my rigour. I gave the elderflower first prize, the tea second and the lemonade third. After the cards had gone on, my helper beamed. Hers had been the elderflower...

I'll prepare supper tonight, as the children, all seven of them, have gone to Southwold. We'll eat next door with Al and Dilly though, so that they won't have to leave to put the children to bed. El trotted out in her lunch hour yesterday and bought smoked trout, hare and goose terrines from Fortnum & Mason, so we'll start the meal with those. She also bought some kudu biltong, just to give me something I've never eaten before. I feel quite shockingly decadent, to be sampling a South African antelope, but it is very tasty.

With one bound, Z may or may not be free

I have a slight, startled feeling that there might be the start of a pincer movement around me. You may remember, a couple of weeks ago, that I put up the agenda of a meeting, to demonstrate why it wasn't all going to be discussed and finished in an hour.

We are supposed to change jobs every three years and this is the third year for several of us. However, after last week's meeting I received an email suggesting I should remain as chairman for an extra year. I replied, pointing to the terms of the constitution, that the job should last no more than three years, 'except in extraordinary circumstances' and those didn't apply. The reply said "but if all are agreed,as we are at the mo...'," (that I should carry on). This is news to me. No one, until last week, had said anything to me and I though this person was speaking for himself.

Now I don't know what to say. I can see the sense of it, but that doesn't mean I think it's good idea, quite apart from the fact that it isn't actually allowed.

I'm off now to the church. There is, every year, a sponsored cycle ride on behalf of the Norfolk Churches Trust. Each county holds one, and the money raised is divided between the local Trust and the parish church which each rider designates. I have done a rota of volunteers to go in and greet the cyclists and sign their forms. The bishop has, with a surprising lack of foresight, decided to hold a licensing ceremony for new lay readers today, so we won't be the only church with people going to that instead of cycling or helping.

After that, I'm going to judge the domestic classes at the gardening club. Then I'll have to do some shopping for tomorrow's lunch for the person being licensed. I'm not going to that, as we've got a family lunch planned, but I've said I'll sort out the drinks. Unfortunately, it seems that one person will get landed with serving them single-handed, but I'm sure the sweet-natured people of the other parishes will help her.

I'd better find something to take with me to the church, so that I can have some breakfast while I wait for cyclists. It won't be very busy, as we're slightly out of the way here and never have more than twenty visitors in the whole day.

Friday 7 September 2007

Z receives a Compliment

It seems to have been a long day already. It started early, at 3.20, when I woke after an hour's fitful sleep. I knew I wouldn't sleep again, so went downstairs and got on with some work. For reasons quite beyond his control, the Sage had not been able to put lot numbers on all the china, so I could not finish the catalogue. However, I expected to this morning, so I dressed in efficiently office-style clothing and sat at the computer looking capable.

I had forgotten that our friend Magnus, who helps in the garden when he has time, was coming this morning.

He looked slightly disappointed when he saw me dressed unsuitably. I told him, with keen joy, about our plans to rip out the laurel hedge and he approved. He set to work, clearing the areas I'd hacked about. After a few minutes, I suggested I go and get changed and help him. "Well, it's not like you not to join in when there's work to be done" he said.

I dressed in a tight, knee-length skirt which is my idea of gardening garb, strapped on my pruning saw and secateurs and put on disposable gloves and Wellington boots. I went to help.

We were getting on quite well when there was a phone call to say there was a problem with the electricity at the church, and could we call out the electrician, urgently, as there's a wedding on tomorrow. The Sage dealt with it, but no one waited at the church, and so when Sam the electrician arrived, he phoned plaintively to say he didn't know what the problem was. I stomped off, still wearing wellies and blue gloves. After some searching, we discovered the problem. The hoover, which is actually a Miele, only two or three years old and used once a week, is faultly and was blowing the trip switch. Not worth repairing, so I must buy a new vacuum cleaner. It will not be a Miele.

I returned to the garden. There were dead stumps to remove and thick ivy to cut away. I was sufficiently bad tempered to have a considerable effect. Magnus watched me as I heaved a large dead thornbush stump to and fro until it cracked at the root and I could lift it out. "You know," he said, "I really respect you."

He is a great friend and we like each other, and he is a very hard worker, and I was vastly touched. I don't think he could have thought of a higher compliment. We, and the Sage, work well together and chat and joke cheerfully, while getting a lot of work done.

Some friends came to see the china and stayed for quite some time. After they left, the Sage remembered he was due to go to a funeral. He had, while Magnus and I toiled, finished lotting the china, so I said I'd catalogue it. However, I had only had an hour's sleep and I did find it necessary to fit in another hour.

I did the catalogue and the condition report at the same time, and was just finishing when the next clients came to view at 6 o'clock. Their catalogue, unchecked, was hot off the press (the sale won't be on the website for another ten days or so, as I haven't done the photos yet) I was scrubbing potatoes when the phone rang. It was a friend to tell me that there were complications for Sunday. We sorted it together and I shoved the spuds in the oven. I fetched the goats cheese, pepper and onion tartlets out of the freezer (I'm unrepentant, it was that sort of day) and prepared the veg. The Sage went to finish Al's deliveries.

He has just gone out again, to fetch El and Phil from Diss station. The weekend will start in about 40 minutes. First, I must go and change their bedclothes. I've just remembered I didn't do it after my sister Wink came to stay.

P.S. I should like to make it clear, particularly to Dandelion, that I was fully dressed at all times. Not mentioning a particular garment does not mean I was not wearing it.

Thursday 6 September 2007

A present for the Sage - Part 2


Just to recap, in case anyone else was as misled as Dandelion was by my half-baked command of the English language.

I had seen, and hoped to buy, a coffee cup (no saucer) on which had, in the 1770s, been painted a representation of a grey elephant, and on this elephant rode a Chinese man, dressed in traditional robes.

I travelled to the Angel and walked to El and Phil's flat. Glasses of wine were poured and I told them about my day. I described the coffee cup and said that, with the sale starting at 10.30, I had every hope of arriving for the start and at any rate, would be there by the time the L0west0ft came up. "There's an estimate of £600-£800 on the cup" I said. "I won't get it for that - but I've a hope at £1,000."

I tell you this, not because I want you to know how much I was willing to spend, but because of El's reaction.

She drew a deep breath. "I say!" she exclaimed. "I should run that past Dad first!"

The poor child will never live that one down. Sniffily, I reminded her that a) I was spending my own money and that b) I knew it was well worth it. £1,000 was a realistic, but quite optimistic expectation. Furthermore, c) it was for the Sage's Christmas present and he didn't know anything about it.

She had already realised what she had said, and backtracked at once. "I mean, it will give him such pleasure to imagine you bidding. You know what he's like. And how do you think you are going to keep quiet about this between now and Christmas? You're bound to tell him anyway - and if you don't, someone else will."

This was all true and I relented. I phoned home. I described the coffee cup once more and the Sage replied at once. "You won't miss it for a bid or two, will you?" A couple of hours later, he rang again. "I think you'd better go up to £1,400." Commission would, of course, be on top of the bid price.

The next day I left the flat, took the Tube to Covent Garden and walked to India House. I was fourth in line, although within half an hour there was a long line of people behind me. Once the doors opened, I was quickly dealt with and I had time for breakfast before setting off for the auction house. I arrived in good time, fetched my bidding paddle and chose a seat near the back, on the left-hand side near the rows of telephones set up for the phone bidders. I greeted several people I knew, some of whom are regular bidders at our sales.

I noted down bids in my catalogue, thus destroying its resale value. Pfft. If you've registered for a phone bid, the clerk calls you a few minutes early, to make sure there isn't a delay. Two people were phoned for my lot, 254*. I was apprehensive, but when I heard the explanation that there was a mistake in the catalogue and that the picture labelled 253 was for 254 and vice versa I smiled inwardly. Confuse the opposition!

I had decided that I would go to £1400 or £1500, depending whether I was caught on odd or even bids. I started early, at £400, by holding up my paddle firmly. Some people prefer to be discreet, not to let others know who is bidding, but I'd decided that my tactic was to look keen and strong. I nodded at once for £600, for £800 and for £1.000. The phone bidders were silent and the man in the front row shook his head. When the auctioneer banged down his gavel and announced my number, I smiled my appreciation to him.

So, for a total, after tax (not VAT on the commission as it was not from an EU country, but import duty instead) of something like £1225, the Sage had his Christmas present. I waited until the end of the L0west0ft and slipped out to pay. Then I went to phone him, and El. People came out, and chatted to me. They teased me, when they heard why I'd bought it. They were jealous though...

When I arrived home, I asked the Sage if he wanted it at once, or on the day. Nobly, he said he'd wait. When he saw it again, he realised that he'd missed it, in favour of another item (couldn't afford both). twelve years before. This is the reason he had, until I reminded him, convinced himself that he had sent me to go and bid for it.

Last year, a friend of a friend saw the matching saucer at an antiques market, but didn't believe it could be L0west0ft ("they didn't do elephants!") and so missed it.

If any of you see it, please let me know.

*I think, I haven't checked

A present for the Sage - Part 1

I'll put the tale on record so that, if ever the Sage forgets again, you will know what really happened.

Although one can apply for a visa to India by post, I think it's all part of the build-up to the visit if one trots along to the Indian High Commission and queues up oneself. I had a free day at the beginning of December, so I asked El and Phil if I could stay with them on Sunday night, ready to present myself on Monday. The doors are not open then, but there are always a lot of people. If you ever do it yourself, try to get there before 8am, as that's when the queue really builds up.

I was playing the organ in the morning, so I booked a train ticket for lunchtime, thinking that I'd fit in a visit to a museum in the afternoon. Then the Sage observed that there was an auction on that Monday, in the King Street auction rooms (which is behind and across the road from the Ritz). A wealthy American lady, well known in the antiques world, had recently died and her collection of English eighteenth century porcelain was being sold in that auction. She had some fine pieces of L0west0ft, and the auctioneers had taken the opportunity to put in some other items as well, including a fine inscribed inkwell.

I arrived at the salerooms looking quite hot and bothered. I was wearing a wool trouser suit, boots and a long wool overcoat as well - it was December and I'd be waiting in the early morning, outside, for a couple of hours the next day. I didn't want to bother with a case, so I wore all my clothes and carried toiletries in my handbag. Everyone else was chic and soignée, so I tried to look as if I intended the effect I'd achieved. I bought a catalogue (these come at the price of a hardback book, but they are fully illustrated), and found my way to the china.

I spent a happy hour looking around before turning my attention to the L0west0ft. It was very impressive. There were some spectacular pieces of rare or early shapes. The viewing can be quite nerve-wracking though. It's displayed in tall glass cabinets which are, of course, kept locked. If you want to handle something, you ask an assistant, who will unlock the cabinet and leave you to it. The opening is at the back, but the smaller pieces are at the front, so you have to reach around them, and some items are quite top-heavy, to pick out the item you want, and then carefully put it back again. If you were to touch it against something else, they could all go down like dominos. The assistants are remarkably trusting. My jacket joined my coat on the floor (no, really, I'm not bothered if they think I'm odd) and I was very, very careful.

I handled and saw many lovely and impressive items, but found nothing I actually wanted to buy. The nicest pieces were too expensive in any case, but they didn't speak to me. I didn't covet them.

On the other side of the room was a case of polychrome china. This was on a small dais and the top shelf was above my head. I asked an assistant to fetch pieces down for me, as I couldn't reach. She was tall, but they were above her head too, and she had to rely on my directions and what visibility she had through the glass shelf. She brought down various items and put them on a table for me.

In the catalogue, they had mixed up two lots. The picture of one (two cups) was labelled with the number of another (one cup). Furthermore, the single cup was photographed from the reverse side. It was uninteresting. As soon as I picked it up, however, I knew I'd found the cup I wanted to buy.

It was painted with an elephant, a very pale grey, with slightly darker grey patches. The elephant was beautifully painted, well proportioned and detailed. It was being ridden by a man in Chinese Mandarin robes and another man was standing beside, hand outstretched. But what I liked most of all was that the rider sat astride the elephant as if he was riding a pony, legs dangling. The painter had carefully copied a picture of an elephant, but had no idea of its size.

I thanked the saleroom assistant, gathered up my coats and bag, went downstairs to register as a potential buyer and left.

To be continued

Wednesday 5 September 2007


Well, the allure of the Sage's favourite china has had an effect that all my persuasiveness has not had for several years. There is a sale (from lot 314) coming up in London in early October and he really wants to go. He really wants to view it too...

I looked up train times for the Sunday, but there is a long bus ride because of work on the line (they always do work on the line on Sundays, it's a real nuisance if you want a weekend break). So I suggested he go up on the Tuesday and come back, after the sale, on Wednesday. He agreed with astonishing alacrity.

This is the man who has never, in eight years, spent a night at his daughter's flat. The one who bemoans the fact that our 93-year-old friend in Dorset doesn't visit any more but won't consider visiting her. The one who missed his son's graduation ceremony (which he had booked in for, so I sat with an empty place beside me) because it involved an overnight stay.

Three years ago, I went to fetch my visa for my last trip to India and it happened (I'd already booked the ticket, may the Lord be praised, it was a complete coincidence) to be the days of a view and sale of a fine collection of an American lady, who loved 18th Century English china. I fell for a particular coffee cup and, being a Perfect Darling, bought it for the Sage's Christmas present. A slight guilt factor, in that I was leaving two days after Christmas (and to Madras, just after the tsunami hit, as it happened - but that is another story), might have contributed...but no. My priorities are sound.

Anyway, at the time, the Sage had decided not to come with me. He realises his mistake now, I think. After all, I spent my own money on that occasion...but I can become alarmingly enthusiastic with a credit card.* & **

He would like me to go with him, and I'd love to go, but I've got a meeting I can't get out of, so it probably won't be possible. I'm still thinking about it, though.

*No, I don't pay my own credit card bills. That is not my rôle in the fair division of responsibilities.

**I was right though. It was the perfect present. He now believes (well, believed, until I reminded him) that he sent me to London specifically to buy the cup.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Z was tetchy

I was slightly ratty once or twice at this morning's meeting. For a start, someone didn't arrive, so I rang her (she'd offered to bring our host an extra coffee pot, so had been expected early) in case she had broken down or something. "Oh shit, I have it on the calendar for tomorrow," she said. She arrived half an hour later. I wasn't tetchy about that of course, because I'm hardly the person to fuss about a mistake, leaving chaos behind me all the time as I do.

So we started a little late. Within moments, someone raised a matter irrelevant to the subject in hand "since it's not on the agenda." I pointed him to my notes on the agenda, item 4b*. "Ah. Sorry".

Really, it was like looking after a basketful of puppies. A couple of months off and they were all cheerful and pleased to see each other. I mean, I'm as friendly as the next grumpy person, but I used my gavel. Twice.

We finished less than ten minutes late, but there's a whole list of things deferred to a later meeting.

I went in to say goodbye to the Sage, on my way to this evening's meeting. He was unpacking china on the dining table. He had a can of cider in one antique bowl and a knifeful of cheese balanced on another. Before I left, he swept me out to the chicken run, where half a dozen young girls had got out of their coop - they are ready to go in the run with their bigger aunts really, but a stoat got their sister a week or so back, and tore the skin on the head of one of them, so the Sage is keeping them in the coop until she's completely healed. Together, we picked them up and put them back. They are quite tame and squawked a bit but didn't struggle.

Eight chicks were hatched a couple of days ago and they, with their mother, are in another coop. I did take photos and I'll add them tomorrow. It's early, but I'm ready for bed.

*or whatever, none of us cares enough for me to have to go and check, surely

Monday 3 September 2007

Changes of plans

No, of course the day didn't work out as planned. It doesn't, does it? No matter, it'll all work out.

And a young woman, on University Challenge, just said that she is studying for a PHD in 'Excessive Motivation'. Paxo's face was a picture, and Ro and I fell about.

I had forgotten that the Sage had to pick up three lambs from the local abattoir. These lambs were born on one of our fields this spring and lived there all their young lives. Now, we will eat one and a half of them. A local butcher, in return for the other one and a half at a favourable price, butchered ours.

I had assumed the bits would arrive, all bagged up. But the Sage rang, asking if it would be better to decide for ourselves how they should be frozen. Fair enough. Last year, we cut them up ourselves. I don't object to this, feeling it is a worthwhile thing to do, to acknowledge one is prepared to eat an actual animal, rather than buy anonymous bits of meat that one can feel disengaged from. But it's hard work.

Anyway, it didn't take all that long. But the deal with the butcher had not involved the offal, and by the time I had thinly sliced three livers, I felt a little queasy. And later, I filleted three mackerel, which I didn't enjoy all that much either.

So not much of the china has been unpacked and labelled. However, I will be out all morning at a meeting (the one I posted the agenda of last week) and then straight back to the shop, as Al and family are all going to the dentist in the afternoon, so the Sage will have plenty of time on his own to get on with it.

My sister rang this evening. She was a bit astonished. I can't say much, for reasons of discretion (yes, me, really, I can do discreet), but from next Monday she will have a new office manager and, unexpectedly, be without a key member of staff. She wondered if she was overreacting, in being somewhat shocked. I didn't think she was and we had a long, encouraging talk.

She remembered that, some ten years ago, a similarly key member of staff had been found with her hand in the petty cash box and summarily dismissed (nothing like that this time, no stains on any characters). She and the (now being promoted) manager had coped, even though Wink's husband had recently been diagnosed with leukaemia and was not well and it was a very busy and difficult time.

We agreed, we are copers. We cope so well that we don't realise that we are coping. Later, I asked the Sage if I had been rather odd five years ago, when there were various things going on that, I now realise, might have made me a bit manic. I know my children were concerned. I know that people tended to just say 'Yes, Zoë, anything you say". I know I coped. But I might have been a bit odd.

The Sage hadn't noticed anything unusual at all.

Z faces the prospect of Earning her Keep

Oh bugger. I've been airily sympathetic to those people who have been bemoaning the end of the summer holidays and the return to work and all that, for I am both always and never at work, am I not?

I've been thinking about the jollity of September, it being Universal Birthday month.

I've considered, happily, oncoming autumn, when the weather is bound to be far better than it was all summer, but with the bonus of it being unexpected and therefore a constant happiness and surprise, when any drizzly day in August is a source of discontent.

I've had my head somewhere in Nephelococcygia. And the clouds have just cleared.

The splendid thing, as far as you lovely people is concerned, is that it will only be a couple of weeks before our next sale is up on our website. By then it will look rather different, as Ro has taken over its design and maintenance from Lynn (who is the very Lynn whose birthday falls a couple of weeks after mine. We have known each other since Junior School). But, first, the china has to be labelled, lotted, described, examined and photographed. Which is where I come in.

First, it has to be unpacked (by the Sage). So at least I have this morning to eat toast, read the papers and clean the entire house. Just as well we only have two sales a year.

Sunday 2 September 2007

Three double cubes is not as interesting as I thought it would be

Before I start, the warmest of welcomes to Mike, who I am vastly flattered to have as a visitor this month.

It's Dilly's birthday today. Slightly obscurely, she decided to greet the happy morn by packing up a load of baby stuff and going off with Al and Pugsley to Banham car boot sale. They left, leaving behind Squiffany, at 5.30 this morning.

They had announced their intentions yesterday, to me and Ro. "5.30" I said. "Ah, yes, babysitting. Oh..kay". "I'll do it" said Ro. "No problem." I was vastly impressed. Later, I said that was the action of a particularly decent brother. "I knew you'd be doing it otherwise", he said.

In other words, he did it for ME! I was quite overcome. The poor lad had to deal with a hug and a kiss from his grateful mother.

In short, all went well, they got rid of a load of stuff, enjoyed it and made a healthy profit, Squiffany was adorable and we fitted in birthday celebrations too. I find that September is a popular month for birthdays, which may indicate the sort of jollities that are carried on around the time of the Shortest Day (i.e. the Longest Night). There's Dilly, Phil, John R, John M, Z (that is I), Lynn, Shawn, Pugsley ... oh, and Dave of course. And a baby, born yesterday who has not yet a name and another baby, expected tomorrow (in the country of birth, already today!) and Ally's baby ... this is fabulous. We shall party all month.

54 is a dull age to look forward to, but there are, among that list, 3 of us. And since 54 is a double cube, we have here 3(2x3x3x3) which is ...162. Oh. Still pretty dull.

The bible reading today was one that always puzzles me. Jesus went to a party and noticed that some of the guests were pushing to get the best places. So he, when asked to speak, said that you should be humble and go to the lowest places (like near the loo or the clunking kitchen door - unless particularly yummy finger food is being brought through it, of course, in which case you get first pick). But, and this is the odd bit, he added that your welcoming host will go rushing up to you, saying that you cannot sit in that crappy seat, leave that for the lesser visitors and he will lead you to the best seat in the room.

That hardly appealed to the humble side, did it? It might have been humorous, to see this self-important individual plonking himself in the most below-the-salt place and being overlooked by the host, grateful not, for once, to hear his boasting but, splendid (and indeed Godly) chap that he was, Jesus was not notable usually for his sense of humour. Have I missed something? Dammit, and Dave, who could tell me, is away.

Saturday 1 September 2007

"I agree", said the Sage

"I agree", "You are right" and "I love you". A wise husband will fall back regularly on one or all of those simple phrases which, if followed up with appropriate action, will help to ensure a happy woman.

I had another bright idea. I had spent the morning demolishing more dead and straggly undergrowth, while the chaps ferried barrowloads to the bonfire. I know, it would be good to shred it but there's too much.

In the afternoon, the Sage went out to do a Good Deed and ventured out again to do some scything (in a flowerbed!) and cut back some more stuff. I was particularly happy to discover the little three-cornered bit at the back is a wonderful mini-wilderness, with prostrate ivy on the ground and peacefully shady elm saplings. Dutch elm beetles attack after a few years, so we don't have elm trees any more, but the roots put forward new shoots. When I mentioned it to Al this evening, he knew all about it. He and the other children had played there throughout their childhood, but I never knew as it was hidden behind the lilac.

The original elm tree stump was there too, now completely dry and rotten. As I cut away some ivy, it started to powder away. I'm rather inclined to leave it. The Sage remembers climbing the tree as a child. He particularly remembers being too young to climb it - being 4 and 6 years younger than his siblings - and his brother dropping apple cores, known as 'mineral deposits' on his head.

When I had had enough, I looked around at the laurel hedge. Earlier this year, I cut it back from 12 or so feet high to stumps (this was the first outing of my lovely pruning saw). It has grown back to about 3 foot. I took shears and started to cut it level. Then I gazed at it again. And realised that it would never look good. It has been there for decades and been razed several times, only to grow rampantly again. Now it is, in places, about 8 foot deep and is a series of thickets rather than a hedge. Nothing grows successfully near it except ground elder and I have become so disheartened by the whole area that I tend to ignore it - hence the weeding by scythe.

The Sage came home. I asked him how he'd got on and we chatted for a bit and I started dinner preparations while he opened some cider - I'd already poured myself a glass of wine. Then I asked him if he'd come and give his opinion outside.

"How would it be," I asked him (and Al, who happened to be around) "if we got Alan in with his JCB and had all the laurel rooted out? We could clear the area, except for a few big shrubs, and take the lawn to the edge of the drive. I've always wished the lawn were bigger. It would mean we'll actually have to mow it regularly, but we'd have an incentive."

He thought about it. "I agree", said the Sage. "I'll ring Alan and see if he can come out soon."

Earlier today, he said that he's had a message from the brickmaking company to say they've got enough suitable bricks for us. He's looked at lots and decided to go for new ones after all, but traditionally hand-made ones. He spoke vaguely about aging them - is he going to use the yoghurt and dung technique, I wonder?